The Great War’s Impact on Europe
The End of the Great War
In the fall of 1917, French troops began to mutiny. They had been fighting in the trenches for what seemed to them like a lifetime, making no advance against the enemy, watching their comrades get blown to pieces, and knowing that all the time the generals and commanders were safe behind the lines of fire. They put down their guns and refused to fight. The arrival of American troops in 1917 put new heart into the French troops: in addition to manpower, the Americans provided fresh supplies and weapons.
The Germans now launched a massive attack on the Western Front, which would prove to be their final attempt at victory. With the added strength of the American troops, the French and British were able to beat back the German offensive. Fighting raged on into the autumn of 1918. Finally, in the Battle of the Argonne Forest, it became clear that Germany would have to surrender. On November 9, the Germans formally announced the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm. Early in the morning of November 11, the leaders on both sides signed the armistice. At 11 A.M., the guns stopped firing for the last time.
The Great War’s Impact on Europe
Casualties of the Great War totaled more than 37 million people—an entire generation of Europeans of all nations, either dead or severely wounded. Mil- lions more died of a severe flu epidemic that struck not only Europe but the rest of the world as well. Many soldiers would never recover from the horrors of combat; they were left in a condition of mental illness called shellshock. Chronic nightmares, hallucinations, severe depression, lethargy, and outbreaks of violent behavior were common symptoms of shellshock. Today doctors refer to this result of combat experience as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Moreover, “an age was dead and gone,” as Woodrow Wilson commented in a 1918 speech. The tank had replaced the cavalry regiment. The machine gun had replaced the bayonet. Elected ministers of state had replaced almost all the hereditary monarchs. Mechanized warfare was a horror that no one had anticipated.
The United States, geographically far removed from the combat, emerged from the war far stronger than the European powers. The war effort had bolstered the American economy; in addition, fighting side by side with the British and French cemented good relations between the nations and gave the United States a level of power and influence over Europe that would persist for the rest of the twentieth century. This influence showed at Versailles, where the United States was an equal participant in the peace process despite not having participated equally in the fighting. The balance of international power had shifted from the Old World to the New. The United States was on its way to becoming a superpower.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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